The City of Austin will still require masks, according to Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders to lift the mask mandate throughout the state starting on Wednesday.
This is permitted under the law, according to the Austin City Council, based on a Texas Health and Safety Code that dictates a municipality “may adopt rules to protect the health of individuals in the municipality” and “enforce any law reasonably necessary to protect the public health,” according to the ordinance. Due to the ongoing public health crisis that is the COVID-19 pandemic, the nature of how the virus is spread through droplets and close contact, and the danger of new variants, the city of Austin is, then, able to issue whatever rules it deems imperative to keep its citizens safe and mitigate the spread of the virus.
As expected, Texas Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton promptly threatened the city to rescind the mandate by 6 p.m. on March 10, otherwise he would sue.
In an interview with KVUE just before Paxton’s announcement, Casar said: “If the state wants to take some of their limited resources and energy and again try to sue and fight Austin, then what they’re going to be doing is going out of their way to hurt the health of Texans [...] I hope the state will focus on getting more vaccines out than continuing to play more politics.”
As Casar referenced, Austin has previously made orders that the state has ultimately superseded, namely, when Austin issued a last-minute order to close restaurants at 10:30 p.m. throughout the New Year weekend. The state challenged the order in court and successfully overruled it on New Year’s Day on a third attempt.
Per Austin Public Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott, Austin is still in Stage 4 of the COVID-19 risk guidelines, as reported by KVUE, which discourages gatherings of more than 10 people and recommends that businesses operate at 50 percent capacity (Austin moved from Stage 5 to Stage 4 in February). Escott said there has been an increase in hospitalizations for the past three days, although case numbers are trending downward overall.
Austin’s current orders, which have been in place since November, require facial masks on both restaurant employees and diners, except when diners are seated at a table to eat and drink. Currently, those in violation of the order face a fine of up to $2,000 per day. However, it’s unclear if the city can enforce this, as Gov. Abbott’s orders stipulate that “no jurisdiction may impose a penalty of any kind for failure to wear a face covering.”
The Austin and Travis County orders run through Thursday, April 15.
Update, March 10: This article, originally published on March 9, has been updated with new information from Casar and Texas Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton.